„The unfashionable truth is that the only way to take direct responsibility for [your] emissions is to enable an equivalent amount to be absorbed, or avoid being emitted, elsewhere.
In short, to offset.”
(Martin Wright, Guardian Sustainable Business)

“Carbon neutrality is an inescapable element
of ecological sustainability.”
– (László A. Rampasek)


Evaluation of carbon offset schemes

We use a set of criteria to assess carbon offset schemes to make sure they deliver the benefits they claim.

There is no regulation, no oversight on carbon offsets, so this set of criteria must be strictly adhered to.

Evaluation of carbon offset schemes

There are four basic principles that must be met for compensation to be legal: It must be additional, verifiable, immediate, and durable, if “quality” means plans that have additional benefits, such as improving health, promoting human rights and family planning, creating jobs or helping historically disadvantaged communities.

Offsetting is particularly useful when it comes to industries that are particularly difficult to eliminate, such as steel or cement production or aviation. However, it is important that at least all four basic criteria are met, otherwise the actual emissions are not really offset. For example, planting trees today, while often a good thing, would take decades to offset emissions into the atmosphere, where they can persist for centuries – so it does not meet the ‘immediate’ requirement.

And protection of existing forests, while also desirable, is very difficult to prove to be a replacement of forests because it requires a counterfactual that can almost never be observed.

Are there offsets that meet all the criteria and bring real benefits in addressing climate change?

Yes, but they need to be carefully assessed.

For example, deep energy retrofits and the installation of solar panels on low-income housing. These measures can help address the so-called landlord-tenant problem: if tenants generally pay the utility bills, landlords have little incentive to pay for efficiency improvements, and tenants lack the capital to make these improvements themselves. Policies that would allow this are good enough candidates for legitimate offsets because they are supplemental – low-income households can’t afford to do it without subsidy, so it won’t happen without a program. It’s verifiable because we have the utility bills before and after. They are also ‘fairly immediate’, typically implemented in just one year, and ‘fairly permanent‘.

Another example is a plan recently passed in Alaska that allows cruise ships to offset the emissions generated during their voyages by paying into a fund that provides grants to Alaskan citizens to install heat pumps in their homes to prevent emissions from wood or fossil fuel heating systems. It is also a pretty good candidate for meeting the criteria.

Contact our expert team for more information.